In a year of oddities, Saturday’s WVU opener definitely wasn’t normal.
A minimal crowd and a pregame suspension of 11 players certainly added to the unusual, but the Mountaineers got the outcome they wanted with a 56-10 victory over Eastern Kentucky.
Atmosphere – It was football, and for the most part the players were excited to finally get into game action. But a football game with only a few hundred people in the stands is not the same as any other in Mountaineer Field’s 41-year history. The parking lots surrounding the stadium were basically bare, outside of those workers, patients and visitors going to nearby Ruby Memorial Hospital. There is just no way to replicate the atmosphere without the 60,000 or so who would usually fill the stadium for a season opener. Outside of the ease of navigating the eerily-empty game-day street of Morgantown, there were no advantages. Like it or not, though, that’s life in a COVID world. It was great to watch live Mountaineer football, but most everything else surrounding Saturday’s game was definitely lacking. Grade: Incomplete
WVU offense – Saturday’s performance was easily the best for a Neal Brown offense in his 13 games leading the Mountaineers. WVU ecliped 500 yards of total offense just once previously under Brown (549 vs. Baylor in 2019), 32 points just once (44 vs. N.C. State in 2019) and more than 100 rushing yards just twice (173 vs. N.C. State in 2019 and 192 vs. Kansas in 2019). West Virginia zoomed past all those marks against Eastern Kentucky with 56 points, 624 yards of total offense and 329 rushing yards. There were a few errors – a drop here, a penalty there – but nothing huge, and for the most part those are mistakes that are expected in an opener. Grade: A-
WVU defense – West Virginia’s D didn’t pitch a shutout, but it had never held an opponent to fewer than 285 yards in the Neal Brown era and it limited EKU to only 206 yards – 131 passing and 75 rushing. Admittedly the Colonels won’t be the best offense the Mountaineers play this year. To be honest, it will undoubtedly be the worst … probably by a wide margin. But still, West Virginia could only play the opponent across from them, and the defense did just fine. It wasn’t outstanding, as there were a couple long completions that could be problematic in the future and a few other miscues. For the most part, though, it wasn’t a defensive performance that exposed any significant weaknesses. Grade: B+
WVU special teams – West Virginia showed some hope that it may be improving its return game, but numerous penalties brought back significant gains. The Mountaineer kick coverage was OK, but a missed 26-yard field goal by Evan Staley is not the way you want to start the season. It may not have been a disastrous special teams’ performance, but if this had been a contest against a quality foe, WVU’s performance on that side of the football could have tipped the scales the wrong way. Grade: D+
Coaching grade – Playing in a stadium with just 928 spectators, as coronavirus restrictions limited attendance to only players’ and coaches’ families, and essential game workers, the Mountaineers still displayed good enthusiasm and effort. That’s a credit to Neal Brown and his staff, as their club easily could have been lackadaisical, especially in the face of an outclassed opponent. The suspension of 11 players for an undisclosed transgression of team rules hopefully allows Brown to set a tone this year that off-field mistakes will not be tolerated. Grade: A-